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Co-optation and Its Discontents: Seventh-Day Adventism in 1950s China

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Most studies of Christianity in the early PRC have focused on the politicization of religious practices under the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, explaining how the Christian faith empowered people to resist the state’s atheistic propaganda. In fact, both Communist officials and Christians invoked ideas about transcendent power and moral purpose, blurring the boundary between secular and religious concerns. The state-sanctioned patriotic religions had greatly impacted the political and theological orientations of Chinese Christians in the Maoist era. This article looks at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Shanghai, one of the first Protestant denominations to be denounced in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. When the state infiltrated the Adventist institutions, some of the pro-government Adventist leaders worked with the officials to bring the church closer to the socialist order. Most of the Adventists, however, resisted the state and organized themselves into a diffused network of house churches. This study highlights the fluid and complex political environment that the Adventists experienced, and the ways they interacted with the Maoist state. The reorientation of theological concerns, the new strategies for evangelization, and the growth of autonomous church networks enabled the Adventists to be a fast-growing religious movement.


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